Education / Schools

kids with lawyers.jpgThis past weekend we spent some time in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the houses are big (compared to Manhattan apartments), the downtown is small, and lawyers make time for inspirational lunches with school children. Or so we read in the Charlotte Observer:

It’s not every day that an eighth-grader gets to sit down to lunch with a lawyer, but it happens once a month for nearly 80 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students.

CMS’ “Lunch with a Lawyer” program helps middle schoolers who are interested in law careers learn more about the profession by getting to know a lawyer.

The article offers a refreshing take on why people become lawyers. See your profession through the eyes of 12-year-olds, after the jump.

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Harvard Law School seal logo.jpgOh, how times have changed. Back in May 2008, Massachusetts was contemplating an excise tax on university endowments. This proposed tax law change would have imposed a 2.5% annual assessment on Massachusetts colleges with endowments over $1 billion. (Cough cough, Harvard.)
Alas, Harvard doesn’t need any help from the government when it comes to dissipating its endowment. For the fiscal year ended in June, it’s looking at a decline in its endowment of about 30 percent.
The university — home to the legendary Harvard Law School, arguably the nation’s finest law school — isn’t taking these losses sitting down. Instead, it’s bringing in new talent to help manage its money.
Read more, and discuss, over at Dealbreaker.
He Was Wearing My Harvard Tie. Can You Believe It? [Dealbreaker]

Crushing Debt Obligations.jpgMaybe the student loan bailout movement just received its first martyr. While people in the industry have long known that student loans cannot easily be discharged through bankruptcy, maybe a high profile case will clue the general public in on this needlessly unfair burden for those who seek post-graduate degrees.
Mark Jesperson had $350,000 in student loan debt and filed for bankruptcy. Lower courts ruled in favor of Jesperson, but then his case reached the 8th Circuit. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports:

The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the 45-year-old Grand Marais man cannot escape more than $350,000 of student debt he piled up over more than a decade.
Jesperson had hoped to discharge the debt in bankruptcy and won the first couple rounds in court. But last week a three-judge panel reversed the lower courts’ decision and said he must pay the money back.

Evidently, little league baseball players have more common sense than our federal courts. Those kids understand the concept of a “mercy rule.”
But regular readers of Above the Law know that this decision is not at all unusual. In our society, it is easier to discharge a gaggle of zombies than it is to get out from under student loans.

While the dollar amount involved is unusual, experts say the latest ruling is not. It’s extremely difficult to get rid of student loan debt, even through bankruptcy.

Jesperson’s story is particularly sad. More details after the jump.

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Crushing Debt Obligations.jpgThe New York Times has a fascinating story about Robert Bowman. Bowman took the bar exam four times and racked up $400,000 in student debt on his quest towards becoming an attorney, only to be denied admittance to the bar based on character and fitness. He sounds like a cross between Don Quixote and Jimmy Berluti.

He put himself through community college, worked and borrowed heavily to help pay for college, graduate school and even law school. He took the New York bar examination not once, not twice, not three times, but four, passing it last year. Finally, he seemed to be on his way.

In January, the committee of New York lawyers that reviews applications for admission to the bar interviewed Mr. Bowman, studied his history and the debt he had amassed, and called his persistence remarkable. It recommended his approval.

But a group of five state appellate judges decided this spring that his student loans were too big and his efforts to repay them too meager for him to be a lawyer.

The thing is, the appellate panel didn’t really explain why Bowman’s debt load made him unfit to be a lawyer:

“Applicant has not made any substantial payments on the loans,” the judges wrote in a terse decision and an unusual rejection of the committee’s recommendation. “Applicant has not presently established the character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counselor-at-law.”

Mr. Bowman, 47, appears to have crossed some unspoken line with his $400,000 in student debt and penalties, accumulated over many years.

Is $400,000 simply too much debt for a lawyer to carry? More details after the jump.

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Student Loan Bailout.JPGA new federal program promises student loan forgiveness for people who qualify after they’ve dutifully paid their debts for ten years. The program will also cap monthly loan payments depending on income. The act, passed in 2007, is set to become effective on July 1st. The National Law Journal reports the awesome news:

Some members of the class of 2009 will have less to complain about, however. A new federal program intended to help borrowers manage their student debt goes into effect on July 1. The legislation — called the College Cost Reduction & Access Act — will cap monthly loan payments according to income and forgive student debt balances after designated periods of time. For attorneys, the main beneficiaries will be those who go on to have long-term public interest careers. But the program will also make loan payments more affordable for all attorneys with high debt loads and relatively low incomes.
“There are a lot of things that are making it tough for new graduates, with the tight job market and the deferrals,” said Heather Jarvis, a senior program manager at Equal Justice Works, an organization that encourages attorneys to undertake public interest law careers. “But there has never been a better time to graduate, as far as student loans.”

Essentially this is the best piece of news for the class of 2009 since they got into law school in the first place. The government will forgive outstanding loans after ten years of payments for people who work in public interest and other qualifying organizations.
Obviously this program is geared towards students who take public interest jobs. Biglaw lawyers are still on their own with their debts:

This option wouldn’t make sense for graduates who take jobs at large firms paying upwards of $100,000, Jarvis said, but it might be right for the sizable segment of law school graduates who don’t earn that kind of money.
“The reality is that most law graduates don’t take those jobs and earn those salaries,” she said. “A lot of people make $60,000 or $70,000 a year. At these salaries, they would qualify for the income-based repayment plan. Debt loads are getting so high that it’s typical for someone to graduate from law school with $100,000 or more in debt. If you were going to stretch out paying your debt anyway, [income-based repayment] is a good option to consider.”

Right now, it appears that many students who can qualify for the program don’t even know it exists. More details after the jump.

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Minnesota Tuition hike law.JPGThe state of Minnesota is providing more evidence that law schools are completely out of whack with the current market realities. The state is doing what it can to keep undergraduate tuition low, at the expense of law students who will be drowning in so much debt they’ll need to grow gills.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports the most recent tuition proposal coming out of Minnesota:

Undergraduates catch a break in the next University of Minnesota budget that would keep their tuition increases low despite a cut in state funding.
Graduate and professional students won’t have the same luck.
The students who make up about 40 percent of the student body are the hidden victims of a bad-news budget that the Board of Regents is expected to vote on Wednesday.

By “graduate and professional students” the paper really means to say law students. The proposed tuition hike is larger for future (unemployed) lawyers than other graduate students:

While in-state undergraduate students will face 3.1 percent tuition hikes, most grad students could see a 7.5 percent increase in their bills this year. First-year medical students’ in-state rate may rise 5.2 percent, to $32,328. Newbie Minnesotan law students could pay 15.3 percent more than their counterparts did last year.

Are Minnesota state officials even nominally aware of what is going on in the legal market in their own state? Could somebody point the Board of Regents to www.abovethelaw.com after the jump?

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Thumbnail image for UNC Law Logo.jpgOn Monday, we warned you that student loan forgiveness programs were under attack. Today, the University of North Carolina School of Law informed students that the school could not afford to make the promised loan repayments to students in low income jobs. Here’s the email from UNC Law Dean Jack Boger:

We are writing to share news about a regrettable delay in our implementation of the new LRAP program at UNC School of Law. Unfortunately, because of the grave economic downturn that has hit the North Carolina state budget, we will not be able to go forward this spring with Loan Repayment Assistance Program funding. As you may know, various statewide freezes and other severe restrictions have been imposed this spring on all state funds, including the UNC law school account that was designated for LRAP purposes. Moreover, the state has made clear that it intends to ‘recapture’ those funds to meet its larger budgetary needs sometime before June 30, the end of this fiscal year. This will leave us without the financial means to make LRAP awards.
While we share your disappointment with this turn of events, we remain committed to the LRAP program – and will keep your application on file. We hope to be able to relaunch this program sometime during the 2009-10 fiscal year.
Thank you for your patience, and for your help in the development of this program. We also thank you for your continued support of Carolina Law.
Sincerely yours,
Jack Boger, Dean, UNC School of Law

UNC Law seems to be developing a pattern of raising people’s hopes, and then dashing them.
A student affected by this decision shares an interesting viewpoint after the jump.

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Student Loan Bailout.JPGWhile the vanguard of the student loan bailout movement pushes on (vanguard = me and this guy), the bailout army is in danger of being outflanked. The New York Times has been reporting that student loan forgiveness programs may not be on solid ground, especially at the state level:

If you want to become a public defender, Georgetown University can be a great place to get your legal education. So Heather Gatnarek expects to take on well over $100,000 of debt to get her law degree there and hopes to graduate in three years.
Here’s the problem, though. She’s relying on a new federal program that forgives part of the student loan debt for graduates who enter public service fields. And she was scared out of her mind when she read a New York Times article on Wednesday on problems in Kentucky, where significant cuts in one of its loan forgiveness programs have put thousands of indebted public school teachers and nurses in a painful financial squeeze.

This must be how Roman generals felt when Hannibal was teaching them about double envelopment.
In fairness, we all know 1Ls who come in with humble dreams of working for the public good. Usually, money talks while commitment to public service walks. But given the retrenchment of the Biglaw market, absent strong loan forgiveness programs, many students will be looking at some tough options:

“I would be completely up a creek” without a loan forgiveness program, Ms. Gatnarek said. “I don’t know what I would do. Marry someone rich, I guess. People say that I could just do corporate law for a few years, but I wouldn’t last two days.”

Is this just a problem in a few states? After the jump, the NYT tries to find out.

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Cheaters law school.JPGTwo weeks ago, we reported on Syracuse College of Law changing its exam guidelines in an attempt to thwart cheaters. Fordham Law School also had some academic dishonesty issues. Fortunately, this new cheating phenomenon is not limited to New York State. The National Law Journal reports:

When a Florida Coastal School of Law student last year spotted notecards poking out of a fellow test-taker’s pocket during finals, she kept her head down and focused on the exam in front of her. “I’ve never been one to rat people out,” said the student, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
Her classmate was returning from a bathroom break during a final exam, and it was pretty clear to her that cheating was afoot. Like thousands of law students each year, the Florida Coastal student and her classmates had signed an honor code on their first day of school. Law schools rely on honor codes to keep students from cheating. The codes reflect the self-policing nature of law school academic integrity regimes, and they appeal to students’ sense of fair play to keep them in line.

Cheating at Florida Coastal? Noooooooo!
What is your friendly, neighborhood American Bar Association doing about the scourge of cheating at accredited law schools? We explore after the jump.

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Student Loan Bailout.JPGThe United Kingdom, (a/k/a: Mother England. f/k/a: The Little Island that Could), just lowered the student loan interest rate to 0%.
0%! God save the Queen:

More than 2.5 million students will pay 0% rate of interest on their loans from September, the government announced yesterday.
Hopes were raised last month that students would effectively earn money on loans after the Retail Prices Index (RPI), to which they are linked, dropped to -0.4%.

The new terms will apply to all loans taken out after 1998:

The new rate will affect those with outstanding student loans taken out after September 1998 as well as applicants for both maintenance loans and tuition fee loans in the current and next academic year.

Okay, it’s not quite a full student loan bailout, but it is a start. Let’s get into additional details after the jump.

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